NFL: A Hobbesian State of Nature

Blog #3

Section 10

Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan outlines his ideas about the state of nature and what steps he thinks should be taken to suppress the barbaric “war of every man against every man.” Hobbes believed that a single sovereign should be appointed and he (back in the time when Hobbes was still alive, there was no way a female sovereign would come to power so excuse my gender blindness) should be granted absolute authority and hold the responsibility of protecting the people. This social contract is considered to have a somewhat cynical view of the state of nature and may not apply very well to the American society, however, I do believe Hobbes’ Leviathan applies directly to the NFL.

Let’s consider the NFL as a microcosm of the Hobbesian state of nature. All 32 individual NFL teams will be thought of as the  people that make up society as a whole. These teams would be inherently violent and vicious toward each other if there were not governing rules to the game. Heck, even the terminology is war-like.

Go to 3:53 for the part which applies to this blog post.

NFL teams would do whatever is required to win if there was no regulation. This can be seen in the New England Patriots spygate incident in 2007. In short, the Patriots organization was caught videotaping the New York Jets’ defensive signals to be able to predict weak spots in the defense each play. If there was not rules in place disallowing this, I am sure spygate would be a frequent practice of all NFL teams in hopes of gaining a competitive advantage and win games. Who sets these rules and regulations to keep the game fair and protect its integrity? Roger Goodell and those who work as officials in the NFL. So much rule making power is in the hands of Commissioner Goodell and his assistants, they can easily be tied with Hobbes’ idea of a sovereign.

The rules of the NFL are fluid and change relatively often. For instance, a major concern of the NFL is player safety. Marc Tracy in his article “NFL Rules Changes: When Is Football No Longer Football?” highlights three specific rule changes that have been implemented recently. The three being: banning ball-carriers from lowering their helmets into defenders in hopes of gaining more yards, eliminating kickoffs in the Pro-Bowl, and removing any full tackling exercises in training camp. In Leviathan, Hobbes highlights the sovereigns duty to protect the security of the commonwealth. The commonwealth, in this case, are the players. Goodell and the NFL is trying to make the game safer and lower the high risk of injury.

Clearly, concussions are obtained at a far higher rate in football compared to any other sport.

However, protecting players isn’t the only responsibility of the NFL and Commissioner Goodell. They also enforce disciplinary action against players who break rules off of the field. Recently, there have been numerous cases of domestic violence around the league (Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson to name a few). While generally the NFL has the largest and most influential say, tensions arise on this topic because the players ARE represented by the NFLPA (NFL Players Association), whereas in the Hobbesian social contract, the sovereign has no opposition in his rulings. Players can appeal accusations and delay judgement with numerous tactics which goes against Hobbesian views. Yet, I do believe the sovereign comparison to Commissioner Goodell and the NFL holds on most accounts.


2 thoughts on “NFL: A Hobbesian State of Nature

  1. Are you saying you think it is a good idea for the NFL to be a Hobbesian state and have a sovereign ruler? I understand why that might be a good thing, but many players as well as fans and analysts of the NFL will point out how it is not necessarily a good thing that Roger Goodell is the judge, jury, and executioner in most NFL legal battles. He hears the trials and he makes the decisions. I think there should be some sort of independent jury that hears cases, and maybe a council or committee that, along with Commissioner Goodell, doles out punishments. Right now, there is no one to check Goodell’s power, and while for Hobbes this might be a good thing, in America’s most popular sport there should be some checks and balances.


    • While I agree with the commenter who suggests that it is a negative thing that Commissioner Goodell’s power is virtually unchecked, I reject the primary assumption this blog post puts forth. The NFL is not a microcosm of the Hobbesian state of nature and cannot even be hypothetically considered as such. The NFL has a governing body, numerous protocols, a long list of rules, and operates legally under the government of the United States of America. To argue that by virtue of the fact that the NFL promotes a rough game on the field equates it to a lawless state of nature is absurd. I believe these two realms are incomparable and fail to see a legitimate connection in this blog post. The NFL’s bureaucracy is just far too large for me to entertain the notion of comparing it to anarchy.


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